Everything You Need to Know About the Orthodontic Problem of Underbite

Did you know that orthodontic problems can affect your overall health also? Improper dental alignment can not only cause pain and early wear and tear of the teeth enamel but also affect your speech and chewing ability.

Mental health impacts include lower self-esteem as misaligned teeth are generally not considered as attractive as perfectly straight teeth. An underbite is one such example of misaligned teeth. So, what is an underbite? What are its causes, implications and the treatment options available for this orthodontic condition? All of these questions are answered here. Take a look:

What Is an Underbite?

In case of perfectly aligned teeth, the top front teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. When this ideal alignment is disrupted, a bad bite occurs. An underbite is a condition in which the lower teeth protrude beyond the upper teeth. This is clinically known as prognathism. The severity of an underbite can vary between a mild stage where the two rows of teeth almost meet and an extreme stage where the teeth don’t meet at all because of a wide gap between them. It is important to keep in mind that even slight underbites can cause significant health problems.

What are the Causes? 

Genetics is the most common cause of an underbite. If either or both parents have it, the child is at a higher risk of being born with a natural tendency for an underbite. Other less common factors include thumb sucking, constantly pushing the tongue against the teeth or extended use of pacifier which puts excessive pressure on teeth, thus forming an underbite.

What Are the Associated Complications?

Several physical and mental health related complications are associated with the condition of underbite. Some of them are listed below:

  • Pain – The protruded jaw puts unnecessary pressure and stress on the body which often leads to painful conditions such as earaches, discomfort or severe pain in the jaw and headaches. This may eventually lead to a more serious and painful chronic joint condition known as the Temporomandibular Joint or TMJ disorder.
  • Tooth Decay / Breakage – Misaligned teeth often lead to excessive wear and tear of the teeth enamel. This leaves the teeth exposed and makes them more prone to decay and breakage.
  • Gum Infection / Diseases – Due to improperly aligned teeth, there are spaces formed between the teeth which encourage the accumulation of food debris. This increases the risk of bacterial growth. If neglected it can affect the gums and result in infection and diseases.
  • Speaking / Chewing / Swallowing / Breathing Trouble – The severity of the underbite is associated with multiple complications such as experiencing difficulty in chewing, swallowing, speaking and sometimes even breathing. Lisping or slurring can occur while speaking and difficulty in breathing may affect sleep quality causing the person to snore or have sleep apnea episodes.
  • Altered Shape of Face – Underbite can dramatically alter a person’s face shape as the chin tends to jut out and appear much larger than its actual size.
  • Low Self-esteem – Difficulty in speaking and the altered face shape can have a negative impact on the person’s mental health as these complications often result in low self-esteem.

Some other complications include chronic mouth breathing, bacterial infections and halitosis or chronic bad breath.

What Happens If an Underbite Remains Untreated?

Even the mild cases of underbite should be treated at the earliest. This is because the symptoms and the complications associated with an underbite worsen over time. For instance, the misalignment of teeth gradually leads to an increase in pain and the eroded enamel means higher risk of teeth and gum decay. Also, if an underbite is left untreated for long, it may eventually cause more severe oral and overall health problems.

What are the Orthodontic Treatment Options?

There are several surgical and non-surgical orthodontic treatments available today for correcting an underbite. The type of treatment prescribed to you depends on the severity of your underbite. Described below are some of the orthodontic treatments:

Braces 

Braces is one of the most commonly prescribed treatments for an underbite. The structure of braces comprises several components. However, basically they consist of brackets which are bonded directly to the teeth. These brackets hold the wires which move teeth back to their ideal positions. Braces can also include separators or spacers which create space between the teeth as required. The rubber ties which hold the wire so that they remain attached to the brackets and the rubber bands which attach to the brackets, both work together to apply consistent pressure for creating a flawless bite.

Upper Jaw Expander 

This is a device which is fitted into the mouth for correcting an underbite. It is not removable once worn for the period you are prescribed, but you can adjust it on your own as required. The upper jaw expander actually helps your upper jaw to become wider which in turn corrects your underbite. Most patients need to wear it for about a year and then follow it with a retainer to prevent teeth from shifting back to the misaligned position.

Headgear

It is a device which is attached to the molars in the mouth. It comprises a band which wraps around the head or the neck of the patient. It has several applications in orthodontics including pulling the protruded upper jaw back in its ideal position. A headgear can accelerate the treatment time with effective results for correcting an underbite. It is usually worn at night and for not more than a total of 12 hours during a day.

Surgery

In some rare cases, a jaw surgery may be prescribed. This surgical procedure involves an oral surgeon modifying the jawbone to reposition the lower jaw farther back. This orthodontic treatment option is not necessary in a majority of cases. Only in extreme cases, this surgery can be the most beneficial option to rectify an underbite.

Adults often require more invasive orthodontic treatment options but braces still remain an important part of their treatment course. Underbites are mostly frustrating which cause physical as well as mental stress. But the good news is that they can be corrected regardless of age and the severity of the condition. It is essential that you maintain your oral health as it can impact your overall health in several ways.